Proposition H - Police Commission/Office of Citizen Complaints

Voter Guide
This measure appeared on the November 2003 San Francisco ballot.


What it does

Presently, the Police Commission consists of five members appointed by the Mayor. Since they are not confirmed by the Board of Supervisors, the appointees take office as soon as the Mayor selects them.. In order to reject an appointment, the Board must act by 2/3 vote within 30 days. Proposition H would increase the Police Commission from five members to seven. The Mayor would nominate four commissioners who must be confirmed by a majority vote of the Board of Supervisors. The other three commissioners would be nominated by the Supervisors’ Rules Committee and confirmed by the full Board.

Prop. H also would allow the Office of Citizen Complaints to file disciplinary charges directly with the Police Commission, subject to limitations —a power currently vested only in the Chief of Police. The measure would also make other, less significant changes, as set forth below.

Why it is on the ballot

Prop. H was placed on the ballot by the Board of Supervisors at the behest of civil libertarians who see a history of non-cooperation , and delays of misconduct investigations, and the Police Commission’s failure to address a number of issues of community concern. These problems have been documented in reports by the City Controller, the Office of Citizen Complaints, the Civil Grand Jury, and the American Civil Liberties Union.


Proponents state:

  • There is a culture of secrecy within the San Francisco Police Department, in which officers impede investigation of alleged abuses and ethical violations. Officer non-cooperation with the OCC is high. The gist of Prop. H is to strengthen citizen oversight by creating a Commission with more independence and an OCC with more authority
  • Prop. H would institute a set of checks and balances on the police that are in line with best practices in other cities around the country
  • It is doubly important to split Police Commission appointments between the Mayor and the Supervisors because the Mayor is the sole appointee of the Chief of Police (where in most City departments, the Mayor chooses a department director from a list of three candidates supplied by the commission)


Opponents state:

  • This measure effectively ends the Mayor’s ability to establish a direction for the critically important police department. Supervisors would control all seven appointments to the Commission, by direct nomination or through the power to reject the Mayor’s nominations.
  • It may be that the OCC is responsible for cases lingering and being dismissed, rather than from police non-cooperation

SPUR's analysis

Prop. H continues the ongoing backlash against the current Mayor, to change mayoral-appointed commissions into split-appointment commissions. Prop. H gives the Mayor four of seven seats—or, from the other perspective, gives the Supervisors control over all seven seats because it requires Board ratification of the Mayor’s nominations, but does not require Mayoral ratification of the Board’s nominations.

Prop. H enacts other reforms designed to increase the independence of the Police Commission:

  • The Board of Supervisors would have to approve the Mayor’s attempt to remove any of his/her appointees. (The Mayor presently can remove them without oversight, and for any reason.) The Board could remove its own appointees by majority vote
  • The Mayor would be required to nominate at least one retired judge or attorney with trial experience to the Police Commission
  • Commissioners would serve for staggered, fixed terms, so that a new Mayor would not be able to fill the Commission entirely with his or her appointees
  • A commissioner could not remain past his or her term because the Mayor had not made a new appointment

Prop. H also institutes changes intended to increase citizen oversight of the Police Department:

  • The Office of Citizen Complaints would be allowed to file disciplinary charges directly with the Police Commission—a power presently vested only in the Chief of Police. The OCC would first have to “sustain” the charges and confer with the Chief of Police
  • The OCC would be encouraged to conclude its investigations within nine months of receiving a complaint
  • Existing law would be clarified requiring the Police Department and other City officials and employees to cooperate with the OCC, including producing requested documents
  • In cases where the OCC has recommended discipline in excess of a 10-day suspension, before the Chief of Police could suspend a member of the Police Department, the Chief would have to meet and confer with the Director of the OCC and afford the Director an opportunity to verify and file disciplinary charges with the Police Commission against the member. The Chief could still issue a temporary or emergency suspension without OCC approval

Current law says that, after one year, a complaint filed with the OCC expires if unprocessed and the OCC can take no action on it. It is common for investigations to be stalled for a year. By giving the OCC the power to charge directly, rather than taking the time to convince the Police Chief to charge, Prop. H can be expected to reduce the likelihood that cases will go uncharged simply through delay. In addition, the stronger OCC will be able to file charges in cases where the Chief of Police refuses to act or seeks to impose nominal discipline when the OCC believes lengthier discipline is more appropriate.

The SPUR Board was unable to achieve a 60% majority vote to either support or oppose the measure.

Had Prop. H not included the short-sighted provision to remove the Mayor’s ability to appoint commissioners, and just been a measure to strengthen civilian oversight of the Police Department, SPUR most likely would have supported it. Instead, Prop. H is equally a measure that will make the Police Department a “free agent” in City government, not accountable to the elected executive

SPUR recommends "No position" on Prop. H.